PIM 101: From Data Management to Driver of Commerce

Enhanced Content 101

The term Product Information Management (PIM) has almost as many meanings as “Marketing.” We won’t bore you with all of them. However, it’s important to understand a bit about how PIM started to know how it relates to today’s in-store and eCommerce product content world.

At its most basic, Product Information Management (PIM) is the means of managing all the core product information that is needed to market, merchandise and sell products through channels including eCommerce websites, distributor/wholesaler catalogs, on store shelves and in advertising circulars, as well as through marketplaces such as Amazon or Google. It is important to note that PIM is not simply technology, but rather a process of collecting, validating, formatting and monitoring the information that is related to distributing and selling consumer products.

The (R)evolution of PIM

Within the last decade, the focus on PIM has been magnified. Traditionally a PIM served as an organizational system and process for documenting and tracking products from manufacturing through inventory and delivery. However, with the explosion of eCommerce and expanding shopping channels, the need for more and more data, in different formats or with differing requirements from retailers, have stretched the capabilities of the traditional PIM.

Even a few short years ago, eCommerce was a tiny portion of overall consumer goods sales. Food and household goods were largely shopped in person. But no more. Now, with the growth of third-party delivery services, more online shopping platforms, and worldwide lockdowns due to a pandemic, the online-first (or online-only) shopper is a major force. According to the Adobe Digital Economy Index, eCommerce spending in the US is on track to hit $1 trillion by 2022.

That’s more of a revolution than an evolution. And it has caused a need for more – more content, more flexibility and more distribution than before. Basic core product content is often not enough for the harmonized online and in-store needs of today.

The original information within a PIM was structured to the needs of the individual manufacturer, distributing their information to a set number of recipients. However, today’s digital content must be delivered to an ever-changing list of recipients, each requiring a different set of data or format that also can change regularly. Capturing information at this level of detail means that the data requirements continually grow, must be updated, or that automated rules must format and validate the information based on a recipient set of requirements. While the basic principles of a PIM are still very important, this flexibility in formatting creates an additional layer of complexity that traditional PIMs were not designed for.

That’s why in many cases, companies currently using PIM systems also utilize other systems or software to deliver the content needed. They may combine PIM with creative marketing assets contained in a Digital Asset Management (DAM) system for example, plus include custom syndication to deliver information to recipients in necessary data formats.

These expanding data management and distribution needs also add to the requirements for monitoring a brand’s product consistency online. And, the in-store component must still be managed, along with logistics data that is required to ship, house and set products in stores. So although PIM capabilities are still critical in today’s ecosystem, it’s easy to see why the “traditional PIM” could use an upgrade.

Is PIM Suited for eCommerce?

In a word, yes…but with help. Any brand that sells a number of products through different online channels will certainly need the elements of PIM in order to operate effectively. A PIM solution may also be able to distribute supplier data to different recipients. However, PIM is not the only piece to the eCommerce puzzle.

In order to be truly effective online, a brand must supply more than the core product information; there is also a need to deliver brand- and product-level creative content that might be tied to a single product or an entire line. This requires Digital Asset Management, a separate but necessary component that is needed to efficiently market and sell products online.

A modern PIM should include:

  • Integration that can connect with internal systems including MDM and ERP;
  • Content intake that includes validation, workflows, and individual retailer taxonomies;
  • Data flexibility to format and update programs on the fly;
  • Direct syndication to recipients in the format(s) they require;
  • Analytics to allow for optimization of content in real time.

Finally, to operate successfully, a supplier needs effective syndication. The best data can still fall short if the supplier content is not delivered in the proper formats to the recipient. If the proper file formatting is not followed, as well as the type of connection to the recipient, then there can be delay in products being displayed. Managing connections to each retailer is an additional capability that is required for a platform to be effective. Traditional PIM’s can only work successfully if they are combined with DAM and syndication capabilities to distribute content wherever it needs to go – not the optimal approach.

Do wholesalers/distributors need a modern PIM?

In the past, a retailer customer may have exclusively relied upon distributors and/or wholesalers for the items they needed. Now, with digital marketplaces like Amazon Business or Google’s My Business and others, a distributor or wholesaler has more competition than before. These wholesalers must absolutely have an online presence that is easy to find, search and fulfill. It’s the way of the future: a consistent shopper experience, accurate and complete product information, and additional information to generate engagement.

The ‘Modern’ PIM

This brings us to the systems today, that meet the needs of suppliers, distributors/wholesalers, retailers and other recipients. They must incorporate key elements of traditional PIM, with additional information coming from a DAM, plus syndication capabilities to distribute content to all any recipients. For example, Syndigo’s Content Experience Hub (CXH) is a SaaS platform that combines the elements of PIM, DAM and syndication (plus analytics and content creation), making access and ramp-up much simpler.

A modern PIM combines the most important capabilities needed for managing product content today: Ingestion of content from multiple sources and formats; integration within the platform of core descriptive content with enhanced content and rich media; and direct syndication to retail platforms in their specifications. This also requires that the platform is comprehensive enough to include validation, workflows, and analytics that deliver content flexibility and real-time optimization of product pages.

Analytics: Closing the Loop

Content delivery shouldn’t be a one-way street. With all the work that goes into producing eCommerce content, there should be some return benefits. A brand should be able to improve on their existing product information. The interactions shoppers make with the content you have online can be measured for their effectiveness in generating conversions – and sales.

This is where analytics come in: For example, use a customized report that compares your submitted content to what’s presented online… Or where out-of-stocks are happening for your competition… Or list price comparisons… Or which seller is winning at the buy box (and is it you?). Analytics can help a brand understand how online partners are presenting your content, what may be missing, and what is working, as a way to continually monitor and improve your content’s online performance.

These reports are a few examples of the analytics capabilities that can help continually optimize your product performance and give you more visibility on how your content is performing. While they don’t often come integrated into a PIM, they can work with PIMs to gather more information that can allow more real-time updates to manage the process.

Evolution of the modern PIM

That’s why we built CXH from the ground up for comprehensive product information management. Rather than look for point-solutions to solve specific needs in the industry, Syndigo instead looked at the end-to-end process of data creation, management, enhancement, syndication and optimization. We developed a platform that brings together the capabilities of PIM, DAM, Syndication and Analytics to deliver a more complete product picture and value proposition for shoppers.

If your company is looking to improve their existing capabilities for a more integrated solution… or want to get in the eCommerce game with content that works, CXH has the integration and syndication capabilities to do so.

Whether it’s looking for a way to make existing PIMs better, or how to include enhanced content capabilities for supplier PDPs, or simply delivering GDSN data to a retailer that’s requesting it, CXH has the solutions on a comprehensive platform to manage your product content from one end of the process to the other.